The most significant way you can share your growing and strong mind is through conversation. Conversing with your peers is one way to strengthen your mind. Another is to talk across generational lines, with those significantly older or younger, who will often bring another perspective to the discussion. Let’s briefly consider each way of sharing your mind.
Your peers can help sharpen your mind even while benefiting a great deal from yours. Peer conversation has the benefit of involving people roughly in the same place looking together at some idea or problem and seeking to help each other understand. There is a great feeling of equality in the room. While there may be differing opinions, experiences, and even talents in the room, peers generally feel neither “above” nor “below” each other. Peer conversation allows you to work off many of the same cultural metaphors. You watch the same TV shows, know the same musical artists, have read many of the same books, and have had very similar experiences with popular culture in general. All these shared constructs can help you find connections together.
Peer conversation is usually much easier than that with other generations. This is because, again, the acts of the mind are made easier. You probably (but not absolutely) share the same definitions for things. Many peers have similar judgments of common ideas. It is much easier to connect the dots together because of how much you share in common. Many prefer conversation with their own peers over any other kind of conversation, because one of two possible outcomes is common: A) their peers agree with them, or B) if there is not agreement, it’s not a big issue, because they are simply peers with no authority in each other’s lives.
There are dangers to peer conversation, however, that the above outcomes highlight. A major obstacle to real conversation is outcome. If all one does is simply talk for a while and none of the conversationalists changes any of his views or actions, then perhaps the time was wasted. This is really the whole issue of authority. With peers, no one is “in charge” and thus able to demand change. The argument, or the content of the discussion, is everything in this regard. So it is possible that peers could have a great conversation where no one is changed, but where everyone is made better by the debate. However, peer discussion often falls prey to the notion that “every viewpoint is equally valid,” known as relativism. If a conversation is not pursuing truth wherever it may be found, then it is not getting anywhere. Truth, when found, must be followed. Thinker Ed is trying to help recover a belief in real truth: truth that exists, that can be known, and that can be communicated.
Perhaps this relativity is the reason so many people today stick to their peers. There is no cost; it simply feels like entertainment or a parlor game, where the winner of the debate gets the “prize” of honor. It is not so easy when conversation starts to move across the generations.
Traditionally, the best conversations have been ongoing discussions between members of varying generations. Our modern culture has moved away from this more than any previous generation in history. Relativism is perhaps a partial explanation for this, but further cause is found in our loss of ability to converse in general. It is one thing to “kill time” in circular discussion with your peers while you are hanging out. It is quite another when an idea or problem is faced by members of varying generations. When cross-generational conversation occurs, it is often with stakes involved: a dad and his son are discussing the idea of justice, or an uncle is trying to help his niece understand geometry. In these situations, the outcome of the talks will mean someone needs to do something. So “who wins” affects how one or more of the persons in the conversation will live.
The extreme individualism of our culture has resulted in fewer people wanting to get “caught” in these political situations. The result has been to dismiss the authority older generations have in our own lives. “They can’t understand me” has become the freedom chant of the younger generation who does not want to deal with the implications of the older generation’s wisdom. Thinker Education seeks to bring the generations back into the Great Conversation and has developed this issue more fully in the course “What is the Great Conversation?” and the course “Can I Talk to Another Generation?” For the purposes of this course, it is enough to admit that great gain can be found in conversation, both with our peers and with other generations.